You can pretty much bet that on the windward shore of every outer island in the San Blas you will find a thick border of plastic crap lining the beach. Past a stretch of sand and tangled in the vegetation, plastic bottles, unmatched flip flops, knock-off Crocs and other petroleum-based detritus of the modern world sit in stark contrast to the delicate shells and pebble-like sand, the typical makeup of an uninhabited island in the Kuna Yala.
We were warned about the trash in the San Blas, and I expected there to be the usual mingling of soda pop bottles and food wrappers and chip bags in the bigger villages like Nargana and Porvenir. But I did not expect such a level of trash on tiny islands where no one lived and in the water. Case in point, we were entering an anchorage in the Eastern Holandes, where only a couple of Kuna families live, and perhaps due to a larger than normal tide debris was floating on currents in the water, including all manner of plastic junk amongst the seaweed and logs. In the same spot where we’d seen multiple sea turtles, plastic bags were suspended in the water in a line across a gorgeous anchorage. All this begs a question. Where does the trash come from?
A lot of it comes from the Kuna, floating out from the larger villages, and though I’ve seen no evidence of this, a bit of it must come from cruisers too. But I think the bulk of the trash comes from the outside, paralleling the ocean-side shore of every island, and that most of that plastic trash is brought in on the waves, on some faraway current, to be deposited in this rare and lovely spot where it will sit forever next to the shells and the hermit crabs and the pebble-like sand.
It’s enough to make you never buy another plastic bottle again.